Thursday, January 25, 2007


Give up holiness, and the people will benefit a hundred times.
Give up benevolence and relinquish righteousness, and the people will return to natural love.
Renounce profit-seeking, and thieves will disappear.

But these three things are as decorations, and inadequate by themselves.
Let people rely upon this:

Recognize simplicity and embrace plainness.
Let the ego recede and desires diminish.

At first glance this verse appears similar to the previous one, 18. However, notice that a concept used here with a positive connotation (hsaio tzu, which I translated in 18 as "filial piety" and here as "natural love"). The reason for my differential translation is that in Verse 18 the term is used as something to avoid, here as something to work towards. If the authors used the same word, perhaps they were trying to say something by juxtaposing opposite meanings in adjacent verses? It could be, but remember that each verse is itself a compilation of sometimes unrelated lessons that the Laoists taught their students in their ethics schools. The verses which appear adjacent in this text were probably not in original versions, and therefore it's unlikely that there is a hidden meaning coming from the fact that the word appears twice in a row with opposite connotations. Rather, it's more likely that the authors are referring to the negative aspects of the concept in Verse 18, and the positive aspects in Verse 19, the way we can use "appease" with a positive connotation when talking about how a president appeased his people, but a negative connotation when we talk about "appeasement" as a policy before World War II.

The authors here, as elsewhere, explain their belief that the most authentic and effective positive feelings come naturally from the human heart, unforced by a sense of philanthropy, guilt, or obligation. We may give pretty names to this forcing, but the authors of the TTC would rather people give up worrying about what they should feel, and concentrate on what they do feel.